A massive exclusive it may have been, but Gizmodo's acquisition of the 4G iPhone prototype 'found in a bar' could see the tech site facing criminal charges.

According to The New York Times, authorities in San Mateo County, California, are currently considering whether to file felony charges over the sale of the missing next-gen handset, and could act this week.

California law prohibits the sale of stolen goods, and states that a person who uses someone else's lost property without permission may be guilty of theft. It also states that property exceeding the value of $950 can be classed as a felony offence, and as Nick Denton, chief executive of Gawker Media - Gizmodo's parent-company - revealed that the site paid $5,000 for the phone, this case could therefore see Gizmodo face felony charges.

However, speaking to The New York Times, San Mateo County's chief deputy district attorney, Stephen Wagstaffe, revealed that a decision to prosecute is yet to be made: "at this point the police have not submitted for prosecution. We certainly know about what happened here in Redwood City and we are the jurisdiction for any legal prosecutions."

He also revealed that had Gizmodo not known that the iPhone was stolen, instead of theft, it may face lesser charges: "we call it misappropriation of lost property; it’s a crime but it’s not theft. Knowledge is a very important factor in a theft case."

This one is set to run and run...